All the Things that Matter Most: On Jeff Kelly Lowenstein's Marvelous New Book

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I was deeply honored when Jeff Kelly Lowenstein -- an award-winning journalist, former president of the Ochberg Society for Trauma Journalism, educator, and close friend of many years -- asked me to contribute an introduction to an e-book he was assembling based his blog. That e-book, Meaningful Matters: Reflections on Joy, Loss and Our Changing World, has just been published. It is a major accomplishment and a must-read.

My introduction, which appears below, fails to do justice to the book's myriad splendors. There is so much more to this marvelous little volume that I could have said. I chose to focus, in a very personal way, on the deep chords Jeff's writing has struck in me, and why I think it did so. I hope this brief essay convinces you to read the whole book, and to urge others to do the same.

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"I'm talking about big stuff here," my friend Jeff Kelly Lowenstein writes in "Sources of Joy: The Many Gifts of an Abundant Life," one of my favorite chapters in this wonderful book.

Indeed he is. About 20 years ago my friend Scott Sherman gave me a copy of Norman Rush's novel Mating. In his inscription, Scott wrote that the book was about "all the things that matter most." That phrase resonated with me deeply and has stayed with me. The same could be said of this book of Jeff's essays. It deals precisely with all the things that matter most -- friendship, ideas, mentors, movements, travels, trauma, family, politics, joy, books, relationships.

But the book's central theme, for me, is gratitude. Reading Jeff's marvelous reflections on life -- first on his blog, and now collected here in book form -- has taught me an enormous amount about being grateful.

It was reading an article by the anthropologist T. M. Luhrmann a few months back that really brought this into focus for me. Rituals, she wrote:

work, if by "work" we mean that they change people's sense of their lives. It turns out that saying that you are grateful makes you feel grateful. Saying that you are thankful makes you feel thankful... In a study in which undergraduates were assigned to write weekly either about things they were grateful or thankful for...those who wrote about gratitude felt better about their lives as a whole... There have now been many such studies.

There it was! This poignantly illuminated what I loved so much about Jeff's blog, particularly his "Sources of Joy" series and his tributes to various people -- teachers, friends, authors, mentors -- who have influenced him and his life. On myriad occasions Jeff's essays have given me pause and made me think about those figures in my own life. Who are the teachers, friends, authors, and mentors who have shaped my path? What do I owe them for the gifts they have given me? Have I ever expressed my gratitude to them?

Reading Jeff's essays left me with these questions, and inspired me to start writing in a more personal vein -- something I had long resisted doing.

"I find myself drawing far more than before on my own experience to understand life's events, time's passage and current moments," Jeff writes (again in "Sources of Joy: The Many Gifts of an Abundant Life"). As do I. And it was reading Jeff that sparked this turn for me. His impassioned tributes to the figures who have made a difference in his life -- the "lives we carry with us," in the felicitous phrase of the psychiatrist and moral philosopher Robert Coles (and how poetic that Jeff profiles Coles himself in one of this volume's finest chapters) have stirred me to reflect more deeply on the lives I carry with me. On My Teacher's Shoulders, Jeff's beautiful homage to his mentor Paul Tamburello, has made me think a lot about the many shoulders on which I stand.

And this, in turn, has made me a more grateful person. As Luhrmann notes, it's the ritual that can "change people's sense of their lives." On his blog, Jeff made a ritual of expressing gratitude to various people in his life. And the act of reading these expressions of gratitude itself became a ritual, an infectious one that in turn inspired tremendous feelings of gratitude. And for this -- to come full circle -- I am, and will always be, deeply grateful to Jeff.

As are many, many others. For reading Jeff's blog was very much a collective experience. The blog became a conversation piece among those of Jeff's readers who know one another offline. I often discussed Jeff's latest posts with Derrick Milligan, a mutual friend and devoted reader of the blog, at tennis practice. We bonded over our love of the blog. Others did as well.

But even those of us who have never met, and never will, are connected through the conversation Jeff conducted with us. A community of readers formed around the blog. Jeff's "Sources of Joy" became a source of joy for us.

Jeff's blog has colorfully chronicled his spirited journey and passionate engagement with the world. But it has done more than that -- it has inspired its readers to make our own journeys more spirited and to engage the world more passionately.

This volume gives Jeff's reflections new life. With some of his very best pieces assembled here in book form, they will move many more of us. For those of us who read Jeff's blog faithfully, this "Greatest Hits" anthology is a real treasure. But this volume is more than a mere collection of blog posts. It is a bona fide book of essays, one with an elegant, even lyrical coherence. I hope it reaches the blog's loyal followers and many new readers alike.

"Believer in living with gratitude and joy," Jeff's Twitter bio reads. These essays give powerful expression to that credo. May they inspire this exquisite book's readers to live with gratitude and joy, or at least to strive to do so.

Thank you, Jeff.